Monday, October 31, 2011

Wanted: A Proper Debate About Consumer Capitalism

Only in Britain. We've never been very good about talking about the things that really matter, and it's bizarre that, as we've finally become more open in talking about sex, death, religion and politics (well, maybe with the exception of death), we've also lost the taste for serious conversation. It's now been the best part of a generation since we had an ideologically based political party, and Karl Marx would have his work cut out identifying one opiate of the people from the many candidates: lottery, celebrity culture, mobile phones, shopping, social media, sex. Pretty much anything except religion.

And so it is that, when a protest about how our economic system is run, a chance to debate some of the fundamental things in our society, finally hit the headlines for seven days running, we blew it. Instead of a substantial discussion about the consumer society, vast city pay packets, our crippling dependence on the banks, what do we have? The pretty trivial issue of whether a Cathedral was right to close on health and safety grounds. Only in Britain could the chance of a fundamental debate over the foundations of our society be scuppered by Health and Safety.

What have we been talking about:
 - Should St. Pauls have closed?
 - Should Giles Fraser have resigned over something that hasn't yet happened?
 - Would Jesus be in the camp, or in the cathedral? Or neither?
and there is now the unedifying spectacle of Anglicans publicly criticising each other (though I guess that's what I'm doing now!), and groups with little sympathy for the CofE pitching in to rub salt in the wound.

There has been an opportunity this week for the church to speak about Jesus message, to articulate a biblical ideology of wealth, poverty, justice, and money. St. Pauls has, apprently, a report ready to be published on the morality of City of London capitalism. Provided it is presentable and well-argued, this is precisely the time to go public with it. There will never be more attention on St. Pauls and its views than there is now, and it could take the debate in a whole new direction.

After all, what should we be talking about?
 - Developing an alternative to a Western economy based on debt, and a global economy biased against the poor.

 - Looking at the crippling economic, social and psychological consequences of consumer capitalism, and the epidemic of debt, depression and social breakdown that has come in its wake.

 - A robust public ideology of justice ('fairness' sounds a bit too weak and whiny for the phenomenal greed and inequalities we are dealing with here), that refuses to be held to ransom by people threatening to take their business or tax receipts elsewhere, one which values justice, integrity and community higher than profit.

 - Revisiting the whole structure of work and family, which has changed out of all recognition in 2 generations. The 24 hour society, twin incomes to prop up inflated mortgages, a toxic mix of overwork for the employed and no work for the unemployed, the increase pressure to offload children to state-sponsored childcare, and an ossified and overpriced housing market. How did we get here, and is it where we want to be?

 - Whether the current 'hands off' government approach really holds any water: lecturing banks, energy companies and city bosses has so far failed completely. We are rapidly reaching the point (maybe we have already) where corporations are more powerful than governments. Can this be tolerated? Is there an alternative? Can business be humanised, can we find an alternative trump card to profit and economics, and if so how?

 - The debt crunch has revealed just how weak and vulnerable the Western economies are. That the Eurozone is now actively going cap in hand to China is deeply worrying. The final act of Western democracy, as the sun set on its empire, was to max out its credit card and turn to an oppressive, rights-denying, church-suppressing, web-censoring regime for help, promising to lobotomise its conscience in payment. (Gordon Browns greatest gift to the British people was his '5 economic tests' for entering the Euro, tests which would never be passed as long as Brown was Chancellor. History may smile upon him for this.) Is there a way to keep Britain from this route? Even if there is, what will a world look like where appeasement of China is the pre-requisite for doing business? What will it mean for the oppressed Chinese themselves, for the world to go silent?

 - Plus a whole stack of issues around trade, global poverty, the conditions in which many Western consumer goods are produced (including, probably, some of the tents outside St. Pauls and the clothing worn within it), global warming etc. All of which, at root, are moral as well as economic questions.

Sorry, this is a bit of a rant, but I'm so frustrated. Perhaps I should pack my tent for London and hope to catch the eye of a camera crew. Perhaps taking my dog collar would help.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. Asking us to ask ourselves some hard questions.

    Firstly, lots of us are quite selfish, we are comfortable in a culture of debt and don't worry to much about the consequences. There's always the easy option of personal bankruptcy to escape the debt and to start again. The days of being penalised for being a bankrupt are gone and there is no shame involved. Quite respectable people have been bankrupted and seem to get back on their feet. Off course, there no thought for the creditors they've let down.

    The criminal element for me is the extortionate interest rates charged by companies for such credit. Why, when the bank base rate is less than 1/2% can there be any justification for high rates. The government is to blame for relying on credit to run our affairs and for allowing a free market in credit. It needs regulation, combined with real education for people seeking credit of the dangers and hidden costs of such credit.

    Secondly, the culture of individualism, which was promoted as the lifestyle of choice by the Thatcher regime, destroyed much more than our manufacturing base - it broke down communities and provoked the type of selfishness, where it's everyone for themselves and don't worry about anyone else.
    Maggie professed to be a Christian, but I'm not sure where she got her biblical truths from, certainly not from the teaching of Jesus Christ.

    David Cameron and Nick Clegg both appear to be from the same mould, while Clegg professes to have soft, socialist leanings, he has colluded in what the government is now doing to persecute (strong word, but needed) the poor, deprived or workless. Together the condem's are trying to build a 'big society' of the Rich against the poor, in an even more ruthless, soulless approach than even Thatcher.

    The Church hasn't been silent on this, but it's voice is muted and overwhelmed or drowned out by the attacks of both government and media secularist agenda's, who have the power and resources to do it.

    Sadly, most stuff we read and hear about it Christian's claiming that they are being persecuted, AKA Lord Carey as the voice of those, but his voice is aggressive, and seems to be as far to the right as the conservatives themselves. Tell the Christians suffering real, life and death persecution in Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Egypt and even Fiji that we are persecuted and they might reply, how shallow we are.

    When did our Parish's last engage in this way with politics? Not in my time - we need radical sermons, from engaged, literate and articulate preachers, to inform and educate, particularly when our society seems to be so against the the truth of the Gospel. But in some churches we seem to be quite fluffy about it all - local concerns are our reality, and we ignore the real issues facing us as a country and the world.

    The government attitude of a 'soft touch' in regulation of business was introduced under Thatcher, but New Labour carried it on, and this has led to the mess we are in. De-regulation and loosening of controls was mirrored by the Regan presidency in the USA, and exported across the global economy. Morality and ethics was thrown out with it, and contributed to where we are now.

    There's something sick about a society, which places money and possessions over the welfare of our neighbours and the whole community. We need radical voices, Christian and from other faith communities, united in working together to bring about change. We also need prayer and radical action at grass roots to start the process of change. That is what OccupyLSX is about. It's not anti-capitalist, but just anti-everything our society regards as the status quo.